The PA SHPO extends hearty congratulations to Pennsylvania’s fourth largest city, the City of Erie, which on May 17th, became one of Pennsylvania’s newest Certified Local Governments (CLG).
The certification of Erie City as a CLG is the latest success in a long string of preservation projects and initiatives undertaken by public, private and non-profit entities in Erie County that illustrate the well-trod aphorism If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
PA SHPO is proud to have played a small role, here and there, in the development of an enhanced preservation ethic in Erie County. Establishing a holistic preservation ethic in the county is an effort that, though obviously begun before 2007, was certainly accelerated with the creation of the Erie Center for Design and Preservation, now called Preservation Erie.
Preservation Erie & ECGRA
In 2007 the formation of Preservation Erie was assisted by a PA SHPO (late, great) Technical Assistance Grant (TAG). TAGs were funded by PA SHPO via the PA Federation of Museums (now PA Museums) to provide technical preservation assistance — in this case a small grant to implement a facilitated process which resulted in the organization of the Erie Center for Design and Preservation.
Since 2007 Preservation Erie has worked tirelessly to advocate for preservation in Erie County, created multiple partnerships and has completed a number of preservation projects to support their work. An incomplete list of those projects includes a county-wide survey of historic buildings, establishment of a Most Endangered Properties list, the Greater Erie Awards, and, with funding by the Erie County Gaming and Revenue Authority (ECGRA) a façade rehabilitation program.
ECGRA is not, per se, preservation advocacy organization but is a county-wide resource dedicated to empowering nonprofits and small businesses toward economic and community development. ECGRA funds impactful programs focused on–among other areas–quality of place, neighborhoods and local communities.
In addition to the aforementioned façade grant program, ECGRA has helped fund a number of other preservation- and preservation- adjacent projects throughout the County. For their efforts, ECGRA has been recognized by both Preservation Erie and Preservation Pennsylvania. ECGRA, assisted by a PA SHPO Keystone Historic Preservation Project Grant funded Erie County’s Cultural Heritage Preservation Plan in partnership with Preservation Erie and the County planning department.
Erie County’s Cultural Heritage Plan has helped guide a number of preservation projects. In the past five years or so, PA SHPO’s Keystone Historic Preservation Project Grant program has helped fund several projects throughout the county, all of which referred to the Cultural Heritage Plan in their applications. Ongoing preservation planning and National Register of Historic Places work in Union City, Girard and Corry owe at least part of their success to a path laid out by the county Plan, and have benefitted from partnerships and funding from (among others) Preservation Erie, ECGRA and the PA SHPO.
I could go on about the strides made in preservation in Erie county, and have failed to mention other projects, partners and preservation programming (Visit Erie, the Erie Downtown Partnership, the Erie Downtown Development Corporation, Erie Insurance among others…) but, alas, my word count grows and I need to continue with today’s featured story—
City of Erie’s Historic Preservation Task Force
Among the brightest jewels in the preservation treasure chest that Erie County has become was the City of Erie’s Historic Preservation Task Force (HPTF).
In mid-2019 Erie City Council and Mayor Joe Schember appointed seven Erie City citizens to a two year term on the HPTF. These incredibly thoughtful and hard-working citizens were tasked to “…study, analyze, and develop a historic preservation plan for the City of Erie that will identify community supported goals for preservation, identify policy recommendations, and funding opportunities that will be presented to the Planning Commission for review and recommendation to City Council and the Mayor.”
Coming from eclectic professional and personal backgrounds and working through the pandemic, in January 2021 the Task Force provided a series of practical, implementable yet transformational recommendations. So, now we’ve come full circle —
Becoming a CLG
Among the Task Force recommendations was that the City of Erie create an entirely new City historic preservation program, including the enactment of preservation zoning commensurate with the requirements of PA SHPO’s CLG guidelines and to pursue CLG certification. City of Erie staff worked tirelessly to develop zoning language that met CLG guidelines as well as existing City policies and zoning priorities. Led by City Planning Director Kathy Wyrosdick — who serves on the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Board — City staff and Task Force members worked concurrently on zoning language and the City’s CLG certification application.
City Council passed Erie’s preservation zoning and appointed members of an Historic Review Commission in early spring 2021. The City immediately completed the CLG certification application, which was approved by PA SHPO. We then forwarded the certification documentation to the National Park Service, which on May 17, 2021 officially certified the City of Erie as a Certified Local Government. A mark of distinction indeed, Erie joins over 2,000 communities nationally and forty-seven other communities in Pennsylvania.
I had the privilege of working with the Task Force and City staff throughout the Task Force’s tenure. It is difficult to overstate how impressed I have been with their work, and City government’s response. Working within a compressed schedule during a global pandemic Task Force members took it upon themselves individually and within sub-committees — almost always virtually — to research, corroborate and synthesize information that was in some cases completely new to them. I will long remember the robust discussions and incisive questions Task Force members asked of each other and of their technical assistance partners.
City Council, the Mayor and staff, acting with dedication and alactrity, showed great respect for the Task Force and their work by immediately implementing some of the most complicated Task Force recommendations. My hope is that during these fraught times the people of the City of Erie, for this project at least, are proud of their local government, their fellow citizens and themselves. The City of Erie is certainly a worthy new addition to Pennsylvania’s family of Certified Local Governments.
Is your community the next CLG in PA?
The Certified Local Government program is a Federal-State-Local partnership that helps municipal governments implement local historic preservation programs. The CLG program is administered nationally by the National Park Service but each state has guidelines and procedures tailored to community needs in that state. Learn more about Pennsylvania’s here.
Municipal participation in the CLG program is voluntary and a mark of a distinction, showing a community’s commitment to an effective, holistic preservation program; a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” if you will.
Communities that participate in the CLG program gain access to dedicated grant funds, pro bono design and planning assistance, and prioritization in other PA SHPO grant programs. As of this writing, there are forty-eight CLGs in Pennsylvania.